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Accessible Social

Keeping the Conversation Inclusive

How to make your Twitter chat more accessible

March 27, 2021
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Twitter chats have become incredibly popular, especially in the past year as more people try to find meaningful ways to engage with others during the COVID-19 outbreak. Great examples of successful chats include Brianne Fleming’s #PopChat, Christine Gritmon’s #ChatAboutBrand, Madalyn Sklar’s #TwitterSmarter, and many, many others.

If you’re not familiar with this particular social media phenomenon, a Twitter chat is basically a pre-scheduled conversation hosted by a single account centered around a specific topic. Most chats use a branded hashtag, happen weekly at a designated time for an hour, and have a set number of questions that participants are expected to engage with.

While Twitter chats usually move quickly, there are some basic best practices that chat hosts can implement to make sure they’re keeping the conversation accessible for all participants.

CamelCase Your Hashtag

If your Twitter chat hashtag uses more than one word, make sure you’re putting it in CamelCase so that screen readers say it aloud correctly to blind and visually impaired users.

All you need to do is capitalize the first letter of each word in your hashtag. For example, #SocialMediaRocks instead of #socialmediarocks. This format is also easier for literally everyone to read, no matter the status of their vision.

Before you start your chat, you should also encourage participants to put their hashtags in CamelCase.

Post Your Questions Beforehand

Many people, myself included, like to feel prepared before going into situations that involve intelligent discussion (or discussion of any sort, to be perfectly honest). This can be especially true for individuals who have a cognitive disorder or learning disability.

Making your Twitter chat questions available on your website, blog, or even as a thread of tweets ahead of time will help participants feel more at ease before your chat begins. It will also make it more likely that people actually participate in the chat because they’ll feel better prepared to answer questions if they’ve been given sufficient time to consider their responses.

Add Alt Text to Your Graphics

My feelings about flattened copy on images are well-documented. Screen readers and other assistive devices don’t typically handle flattened copy—text that is no longer identified as readable characters, but instead, an object—very well, making it inaccessible.

A standard format for Twitter chats is to write the full question out in the tweet in addition to using a JPEG, PNG, or GIF where the question is repeated as an on-brand graphic.

It’s definitely best to make sure you have your question in the written part of your tweet so that screen reader users can easily find and access the content. As for the graphic, you’ll want to add alt text to it to make it accessible as well.

For the below example, the written part of my tweet would be Question 1: What should people be doing to ensure that their images on social media are accessible? #TwitterChat and my alt text would be, Graphic for question number one.

 Graphic showing an example question for a fake Twitter chat.

You don’t need to repeat your question in your alt text because then screen reader users would just be getting it twice, which is redundant work. However, you still need to provide alt text to avoid any confusion, otherwise, anyone using an assistive device will just be told “image, landscape” and left wondering if they’re missing important context for the chat.

Provide a Post-Chat Wrap-up

Personally, I don’t normally take part in Twitter chats because they move too fast for me, and I quickly feel overstimulated by the barrage of tweets from participants. This doesn’t mean that I want to miss out on some of the answers other Twitter folks responded with because chats are often great sources of good information, useful tips, and new resources.

An excellent way to make sure that everyone feels like they can access the answers from your Twitter chat, regardless if they participated earlier, is to provide a wrap-up after it ends. You can do this by making a Twitter Moment out of participant tweets or creating a more in-depth analysis of the chat on your website or blog.

Hopefully, these tips will help you make your Twitter chat more inclusive for all users who wish to participate. I urge everyone, whether they host a Twitter chat or not, to think past their own personal experiences and background when they interact with others online and make content that everyone can access.

Creating and delivering accessible content is important to making everyone on social media feel included and valued, a worthy goal for all of us to work towards.

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Alexa Heinrich

Alexa Heinrich is an award-winning social media manager in Central Florida for St. Petersburg College (SPC) and the creator of the wildly popular online account, Social Media Tea. She is a passionate advocate for creating accessible and inclusive content for digital communications as well as educating others about the realities of working in social media.